Nitric oxide (NO) is one of the most important molecules produced in the human body. It regulates many important cell functions including regulation of healthy blood flow and healthy blood pressure levels, communication between cells in the brain as well as how our body defends itself against pathogens. Since it’s discovery and being awarded a Nobel Prize, we now know that there are two primary pathways for the production of nitric oxide. Each contributes about 50% of the total body nitric oxide production. When one fails the other can compensate. When both fail, bad things may happen and people begin to get sick from dysfunctional cells and organ systems. Below we describe the two pathways for nitric oxide production, what can go wrong with each pathway, and most importantly how to help fix it.
Pathway 1: Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) pathway
Nitric oxide synthase (NOS) is an enzyme found in our endothelial cells, the cells that line all blood vessels throughout the body. This enzyme converts L-arginine into nitric oxide through a very complex and complicated reaction. This enzyme loses its function as we age so that by the time we are about 40 years old this enzyme is only about 50% functional. If you happen to smoke, don’t exercise on a regular basis or eat a poor diet, the activity of this enzyme becomes even less. Loss of this enzyme function is recognized as the earliest event in the progression of age related ailments. Research has shown that taking L-arginine will not be effective if this enzyme is broken. One way to help fix the NOS pathway is to focus on getting moderate physical exercise on a regular basis and eat foods with a high antioxidant capacity.
Pathway 2: Nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway
This food-enabled pathway is supported by a diet high in nitrate enriched green leafy vegetables such as beets, kale or spinach. Inorganic nitrate, when consumed through vegetables is converted into nitrite and nitric oxide by oral bacteria. This pathway does not decline with age but is dependent upon our diet and the presence or absence of very specific oral nitrate reducing bacteria. If you do not eat enough nitrate enriched foods, this pathway is not functional. Furthermore, if you do eat plenty of nitrate rich foods but lack the right oral bacteria due to poor oral hygiene or use of antiseptic mouthwash, this pathway is not functional and you can become deficient in nitric oxide. One way to help fuel the nitrate to nitrite to nitric oxide pathway is to eat high nitrate foods such as green leafy vegetables like beets, kale or spinach as long as you have the right oral bacteria. However, there is a wide variation in the nitrate content of vegetables depending on where they are grown and the farming practices so you may not be getting enough nitrate from the foods you eat to effectively stimulate this pathway.
How we support both pathways to produce nitric oxide
We understand that when it comes to your daily lifestyle it can be hard to find the time to exercise enough or make the right eating choice. This is why we have worked with the University of Texas Health Science Center and leading scientists and researchers in the field of nitric oxide to bring you the best and most effective nitric oxide functional foods and supplements.